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President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden mark farewell with Seamus Heaney

President Obama surprised Vice President Biden awarding him the Presidential Medal of Freedom

By Claire Williamson

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have called upon Irish literary greats Heaney and Yeats to mark their final farewell to eight years in the White House.

Mr Obama surprised the vice president on Thursday by awarding him the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction in an emotional White House ceremony.

The American president spoke at length to celebrate about their soon-to-end partnership, bringing a tear to Mr Biden's eye.

President-elect Donald Trump takes office on January 20.

Mr Obama called upon the words of Irish poet W.B Yeats in his dedication to his right-hand man.

He joked that he couldn't use Seamus Heaney because Biden often looks to the Co Londonderry poet for speeches.

Instead he used a line from Yeats' poem The Municipal Gallery Revisited.

He said: "As Yeats put it – because I had to quote an Irish poet, and Seamus Heaney was taken – 'Think where man's glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends',"

President Obama continued: "To know Joe Biden is to know that love without pretense, service without self-regard, and to live life fully.

"As one of his longtime colleagues in the Senate who happened to be a Republican once said, “if you can’t admire Joe Biden as a person, you’ve got a problem.

"He’s as good a man as God ever created. So, Joe, for your faith in your fellow Americans, for your love of country, and for your lifetime of service that will endure through the generations, I’d like to ask the military aid to join us on stage.

"For the final time as president, I am pleased to award our nation’s highest civilian honour, the presidential Medal of Freedom."

In his impromptu speech Mr Biden, who has spoken before about his Irish heritage, borrowed lines from Seamus Heaney.

He said: "And Seamus Heaney in one of his poems said - when you can find someone who says it better, use it – he said, you carried your own burden and very soon, your symptoms of creeping privilege disappeared.

"You carried your own burdens, and very soon, the creepy symptoms of privilege disappeared.

He continued: "Mr President, you have sometimes been like a lone wolf –but you carried yourself in a way that’s truly remarkable. Here’s to your journey – your journey is something people are gonna write about a long time."

He added: "Mr President, I... I’m indebted to you. I’m indebted to your friendship. I’m indebted to your family and as – I’ll tell you – I’ll end on a humorous note.

"We’re having lunches and mostly – it’s – whatever’s on either one of our minds. We talk about family an awful lot and about six months in, the president looks at me, said 'you know, Joe. You know what surprised me? How we’ve become such good friends'.

"And I said 'Surprised you?' But that is candid Obama."

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